DOCTOR EMPLOYER


Maintaining a productive workforce in the post-pandemic era

Promoted by

Dr Mark Simpson

Consultant Occupational Physician

As working life in the post-pandemic era begins to take shape, we should reflect on the dramatic changes that many businesses have made to their operating models. Sectors which had never previously considered remote working are embracing this flexibility, downsizing their estate and, in some cases, switching permanently to this new approach.

The fundamental change has, of course, been the mass transition to home working, and this presents both potential risks and positives.

On the negative side of the ledger, homeworking can lead to a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, and individuals can miss out on the incidental movements which take place in normal working environments, or during the morning commute. Many people will be working in cramped, sub-optimal conditions which can impact physical health. There is also the risk of isolation and loneliness, and the associated mental health implications this can trigger. If this isn’t identified, supported and managed within your workforce, this can lead to a significant loss of productivity.

However, the positives shouldn’t be ignored. Those who previously made long daily commutes will find that several hours a day are given back to them.

Many home workers also have the ability to flex around core hours, allowing them to start earlier or later while still getting the job done. This offers a greater work/life balance to those with children or care-giving duties, who can manage these responsibilities more easily. Rigid policies that restrict home and flexible working are now likely to be questioned, and those who have successfully worked from home during the pandemic may feel aggrieved if this flexibility is withdrawn.

Through my work advising clients, I’ve identified four issues that every HR and leadership team will need to address to ensure teams remain productive and engaged.

 

Engagement

In businesses where home working is likely to continue for some time or become permanent, it is important to combat isolation and find ways to replicate normal workplace social interactions when working at home. This requires some thought as impromptu meetings, brainstorming sessions or chats in the kitchen can’t be replaced with endless video calls. Managers may need to change their style to a more active, participatory style, rather than a more passive approach where responses and input are awaited from colleagues. Many businesses have successfully introduced team socials, after work events, and even conferences with the use of video technology. These need to be embedded as businesses move to a longer-term solution.

Technology

To support productive home working, technology must be as effective as possible. Some will live in ‘broadband poverty’, areas where the broadband speeds won’t support video conferencing or the transfer of large files, for instance. Greater investment in remote working technology may be required to help employees remain productive.

Looking ahead, we are likely to see a blended working model emerge, which balances the benefits of home working with business objectives and the need for physical interaction on specific projects.

Consider the individual

While some will embrace home working, others may find it intolerable. Assuming that everyone will successfully adjust to long-term home working without consultation is a mistake, and businesses who do regularly canvass opinion from their employees and adapt their approach accordingly will be able to put in place any necessary measures, including health and wellbeing initiatives, to support those who may find home working more challenging.

Communications

HR leaders should develop a robust, proactive communications strategy for staff working remotely. Performance reviews should take place more regularly, and in a more structured way, so employees who are facing performance challenges can be supported appropriately, which may mean bringing them back into a physical workplace environment. Managers should schedule more regular 1 to 1’s, and avoid only focusing on the ‘team’.

Looking ahead, we are likely to see a blended working model emerge, which balances the benefits of home working with business objectives and the need for physical interaction on specific projects.

Meanwhile, HR and business leaders should not accept the ‘new normal’ uncritically, and keep in mind that circumstances have forced these changes. As we come out of the pandemic we need to take a step back and decide how we want to shape this new world - rather than the new world being shaped for us.

 

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